As the concentration of wealth in America has grown, so has the scale of philanthropy. Today, that activity is one of the principal ways in which the superrich not only “give back” but also exert influence, yet it has not received the attention it deserves.
On all sides, billionaires are shaping policy, influencing opinion, promoting favorite causes, polishing their images—and carefully shielding themselves from scrutiny. Journalists have largely let them get away with it.
It was with great anticipation that I arrived for my appointment at the editorial offices of BuzzFeed on West 23rd Street in Manhattan. Among journalists, no other website has stirred more interest, resentment, or envy.
On all fronts, fields like history and English, philosophy and classical studies, art history and comparative literature are under siege. Almost all disciplines have been affected, but none more so than history. The number of history majors nationwide fell from 34,642 in 2008 to 24,266 in 2017. Languages and literature courses have been hit, too: between 2013 and 2016, US colleges cut 651 foreign-language programs. Defenders of the humanities generally emphasize what the field can do for the individual: they promote self-discovery, breed good citizens, and teach critical thinking. No doubt the humanities do broaden the mind and deepen the soul. But to dismiss their practical worth seems both short-sighted and self-defeating.
With the divisions in the country seeming to harden in the wake of the midterms, journalists need to do a better job of overcoming them. Sadly, Jim Acosta’s confrontation with President Trump at the post-election press conference seemed certain to heighten the divisions. For CNN, the encounter added to their star reporter’s visibility and the network’s image as a fighter for press freedom. To Trump and his supporters, Acosta’s grandstanding provided further evidence of the news media’s implacable hostility to them. Each side, in short, seemed to get from the encounter exactly what it wanted.
Erasmus was an internationalist who sought to establish a borderless Christian union; Luther was a nationalist who appealed to the patriotism of the German people. Where Erasmus wrote exclusively in Latin, Luther often used the vernacular, the better to reach the common man. Erasmus wanted to educate a learned caste; Luther, to evangelize the masses. For years, they waged a battle of ideas, with each seeking to win over Europe to his side. But in a turbulent and polarized age, Erasmus became an increasingly marginal figure: the archetypal reasonable liberal.